PITTSBURGH — Keeanu Benton played like the best defensive lineman on the Steelers front on Sunday. With Cam Heyward out, the rookie is expected to see an increased role, but the bigger question is precisely where Benton will see that playing time. Coming in with the Steelers, they played him mainly as a nose tackle, but he played as far as out as 3-technique in their sub-packages.
So, a true nose tackle, as a 0-technique, a 1-technique, a 2i, and 3-technique is where the Steelers have seen Benton play so far. But they think he can play even more than that, likely outside of a 5-technique. Yet, Benton seems stuck in the role they have him in as a nose tackle for now. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin liked what Benton showed off on Sunday but will not commit to playing more than just where he has.
“What he showed is he’s what we thought,” Austin said. “He’s really powerful, moves well, and the things he’s going to be inexperienced on are the blocking schemes coming at him and how those things affect him. I like him. I think he can play multiple positions along the line, but right now we want to try keep him coming along, so we may try to keep him a little bit where he is and let him grow that way.”
Benton has the Steelers’ eye, and Austin confirmed that. His heavy hands and burst off the line make him an intriguing player. Benton seemed ready to step up right away following Heyward’s injury. While he may not be the only player to step up, his 29 snaps in his debut illustrate that the Steelers greatly like him.
He will remain mostly playing on the interior as a shade nose guard. That can expand to a 2i and 3-technique, where they did play him against the 49ers, so that should be in his repertoire. While that does not rule him out from playing other positions, Benton has to grow as a rookie and get his processing right first before he takes a great big leap. He may even start against the Browns at nose tackle. Benton is one of their best players right now, they just have to make sure they allow him to grow in the correct way, and Austin seems to recognize that.